U.S. Customs and Border Protection
In 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection established a National Use of Force Review Board after years of criticism for how its agent deploy force along the U.S.-Mexico border. Yesterday, the board announced some of its first findings,
clearing agents who shot at suspects in four separate cases, including two in Texas.
The review cleared Border Patrol agents of any wrongdoing in two cases where authorities shot at people suspected of throwing rocks across the Rio Grande, as well as clearing agents involved in a South Texas shootout and personnel in California who shot at a boat, sinking the vessel and resulting in a drowning.
In October of 2014, in a small border community in the Rio Grande Valley called Escobares, Border Patrol agents patrolling the river came across three abandoned rafts and nearly 700 pounds of marijuana. As they were investigating, one of the Border Patrol boats ran aground on a sandbar and agents reported seeing several people swim back into Mexico. As agents worked to free the stranded boat, they told investigators that "unknown assailants" on the Mexican side of the river began throwing baseball-sized rocks at them. According to CBP, the agents first attempted to use non-lethal irritants to disperse the rock-throwers. When that didn't work, one of the agents fired a single round across the river, and the group fled.
The other Texas case involves a murder suspect in Edinburg, Texas. On July 22, Edinburg police requested Border Patrol's assistance after cornering the suspect at a house in La Joya — another small Rio Grande Valley community that's about an hour from Escobares. The man barricaded himself in the house and opened fire. Investigators found 600 rounds of spent ammunition after the hours-long shootout and hundreds of law enforcement personnel were on scene, The McAllen Monitor reported.
Joaquin Cibrian, 29, died at the scene.
The review board also cleared an agent who shot at undocumented immigrants he was tracking on the U.S. side of the river who threw rocks at him on May 5, 2012 near Nogales, Arizona after the agent cornered them. There were no injuries or fatalities in that instance. The board also cleared agents who shot at a vessel they were chasing off the coast of Solana Beach, California in June 2015. In that case, Border Patrol agents chased the fleeing boat and fired rounds into its engine to stop it. The vessel capsized and a woman who was onboard drowned.
In all cases, the review board found that the agents complied with Border Patrol policies.
Increased scrutiny of border shootings by federal agents picked up in 2010, after U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa shot and killed 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez near downtown El Paso, claiming the teen was throwing rocks at him. Hernandez's family sued, but last year a federal appeals court ruled they had no standing because Hernandez was a Mexican citizen and therefore wasn't covered by the Fifth Amendment, which protects against the depravation of life without the due process of law, the Los Angeles Times reported